and it just flabbergasts me, this notion that i have to have read a book before i can decide whether i actually want to buy and read it. (though hey, it argues for illegal downloading!)
if i read a book a day, and granted myself a lifespan of 100 years and reading ability from the time i popped out of the womb, i'd still only be able to read 36,500 books, which is a tiny fraction of all the books in the world. isn't it obvious that i have to have some method to pre-sort those millions of books somehow? and shouldn't it be up to me how i do that?
certainly, i cannot made a thorough critical analysis without having read a book; i cannot analyze the plot, or talk about whether the characters are fully realized. but that's not what people are doing! they are saying that the premise makes them uncomfortable, that they are unlikely to want to read a book with that premise. and they're saying that not in response to a hostile review that distorts the facts, they're saying it in response to a friendly review, by a person who thought this might be the author's best book yet. and other people who have read the book have chimed in and said, yes, that is the premise on which the book is built, yes, these are the assumptions, and no, the author doesn't throw in a surprising twist to show us that the natives left a giant hole, megafauna falls, everyone dies.
you can't judge the entirety of a book by its cover. but i can certainly decide whether to buy it, or push it hastily back onto the shelf if the cover features a swarthy, loincloth-clad native in war paint, with feathers in his hair, and in his arms a swooning women in a ballroom gown with her creamy, alabaster bosom half-exposed, blond curls streaming in the wind. if covers didn't matter at all, publishers could just use kraft paper.
if reviews didn't matter at all, if people can't decide based on them whether a book might speak to them, why does every book seller worth their salt offer them? in reality reviews can make or break a book.
the facts of the premise, and it being followed through in this book are not in dispute at all.
heck, even those who'd argue that we need to take authorial intent into account (she's a nice person, and she didn't MEAN it!)(*sigh*, cf. path to hell, paved with), are easy to counter by simply quoting patricia wrede herself, from a discussion of her ideas for the book in rec.arts.sf.composition:
The *plan* is for it to be a "settling the frontier" book, only without Indians (because I really hate both the older Indians-as-savages viewpoint that was common in that sort of book, *and* the modern Indians-as-gentle-ecologists viewpoint that seems to be so popular lately, and this seems the best way of eliminating the problem, plus it'll let me play with all sorts of cool megafauna). I'm not looking for wildly divergent history, because if it goes too far afield I won't get the right feel.
this is pretty much the death knell. no, a PoC doesn't need to read a book about which its author has said this, to judge it as lacking. it is perfectly clear that:
a. wrede felt the easiest way to deal with stereotypes was to... erase the stereotyped people entirely.
b. she's unaware that the quarternary extinction might've not been due to prehistoric overkill; there are equally likely (if not more so) hypotheses.
c. she spent more time discussing the choice of an alternative name for england than she thought about real-world effects on the people she was so handily erasing. no, really. go read the entire thread. it's ever so geeky, but oh, it reeks of white privilege, and i am ashamed. one person made the mildest suggestion to have the natives be "reluctant shamans" instead of writing them out, and she brushed that off with "Well, that's your book. This one's mine, and I'm doing mammoths and wooly rhinos and no Indians.".
d. she was not looking for wildly divergent history, and yet she thought nothing of completely erasing the existing peoples of america. this, if nothing else, proves just how successful the actual erasure has been -- she acts as if natives did nothing more than name some landscape features, and oh yeah, hunt the megafauna to extinction.
so go away with your but you haven't read the book. it's just another distraction from the callousness of this book's premise, and the white privilege cluelessness of its author and those of us who knew but didn't say anything. there are native people in minnesota, you know? some of them have been long-time science fiction and fantasy fans. even before the internet! there are PoC SFF fans all over the world, even if most of them don't go to SF cons. but ms wrede as well as ms bujold don't know any, except maybe octavia butler.
if you're a PoC, do let them know you exist, and you count, and you matter. if you're a PoP (person of pallor), go look, because it might give you more perspective next time the question of "why is SFF so white" comes up.